Sunday, July 14, 2024

Golden State Glory author reflects on Michael Norman

With former Vista Murrieta and USC track star Michael Norman competing this past week at the World Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, local photographer, Jerry Soifer, reflects on his past coverage of the standout local athlete.

Soifer is also the author of “Golden State Glory,” a photographic history of California high School sports that includes a comparison of Michael Norman with the renowned Tommie Smith, 1968 Olympic 200-meter champion famed for his victory stand protest. Soifer was also the president of the Southern California Track and Field Writers Association in 1976.

“Track and field is a sport that demands fast times and impeccable timing,” Soifer said. “World records are great. World records at the Olympics or world championships are greater. Barrier-breaking marks such as Roger Bannister’s sub-four minute mile in 1954 are best of all.”

Soifer went on to add the following, “The time for Vista Murrieta High grad Michael Norman to make an indelible mark on his sport is now. He is the favorite to win the 400-meter run at the World championships and assuming he gets through the worlds uninjured, Norman will certainly be on the 4×400-meter relay that is the penultimate event of the meet July 24.

In his writings, Soifer had this to say.

At Vista Murrieta, Norman was the two-time national high school athlete of the year in 2015-2016. He won four individual events at the CIF State meet and led the Broncos to two team titles.

Vista Murrieta graduate Michael Norman, right, edges Justin Gatlin, 2004 Olympic 100-meter champion, in the semifinals of the 200 meters at the 2016 Olympic Trials. Valley News/Jerry Soifer photo

Since graduating in 2016, Norman ran for two years at USC before turning pro. He’s won an NCAA title, a national championship in the 400 and had world leading times such as 43.45 seconds in the 400 this year.

His career has been up and down because of injury and the disruption caused by the pandemic. He was hurt at the 2019 world championships. He took fifth in the 400 at the 2021 Olympics. He has a gold medal from the 2021 Games for running the second leg on the 4×400 meter relay.

Timing enhances the worth of almost every great performance in track and field.

Bob Beamon hasn’t held his world record in the long jump for over 30 years but his 29-foot 2 3/4 inch leap at the 1968 Olympics is still one of the most renowned marks in the sport because it was done at the Games and broke the old mark by nearly 2 feet.

Another famed mark is Roger Bannister’s 3 minute, 59.4 second mile May 6, 1954. The British doctor gained ever-lasting fame for being the first man to run the mile under four minutes in a track meet of little or no consequence other than to give Bannister the chance to set the record.

The vagaries of war and peace and pandemics have played havoc with the fates of some track stars. Cornelius Warmerdame of Fresno was the first to pole vault 15 feet. But World War II cut out his participation in the Olympics. He held the world record between 1940 and 1957. He used bamboo poles and landed in sawdust pits.

Many countries give a bye to the Olympics and world championships to their top athletes, so they don’t overexert themselves to qualify for the Games.

However, this is the United States, and the athletes have to survive a brutal system to qualify for the Games. While Jamaican star Usain Bolt can heal his injuries in Europe, Americans must earn their spot.

Norman and fellow teenage star Noah Lyles should have been advanced to the 2016 team to give them the Olympic experience for the time when Bolt was retired. Norman and Lyles finished just outside the top three and did not run in Rio.

By way of contrast, swim stars Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz took advantage of cameo performances at the 2000 and 1968 Olympics to gain experience that led to gigantic performances at later Games. Surely, Norman would have been better prepared for Tokyo if he had run at Rio. He would not have won.

South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk won the 400 in a world record time of 43.03. But Norman would have been better prepared for the intensity of international track.

Norman is fortunate track has become a professional sport with shoe contracts and other endorsement opportunities. It enabled him to stay active way beyond the age many former amateur athletes have retired.

JP Raineri can be reached by email at sports@reedermedia.com. Jerry Soifer can be reached by email at jsoifer44@gmail.com.

JP Raineri
JP Raineri

JP is an award-winning multimedia journalist, and head of the Sports Department for the Valley News. Over his time in the Temecula Valley, JP, a former Southwestern League head baseball coach, was also an on-air radio personality at Q103.3, KATY 101.3, Hot 103.9, and was a television host for the Outdoor Channel. When not covering local, or national sports, JP also serves as an Associate Baseball Scout with NSR.

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